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Jewish World Review May 24, 2004 / 4 Sivan, 5764

Michael Barone

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The Pentagon's new map |
Thomas P. M. Barnett is a professor of political science at the Naval War College who has spent much of the past 15 years roaming the halls of the Pentagon delivering a Power Point brief (the Pentagon word for briefing) on his strategic view of the world. It is based partly on joint seminars that brought together people from the war college and from Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm, which lost many of its employees on September 11. Barnett published a version of it as an article in Esquire in 2002, and last month saw the publication of his book The Pentagon's New Map. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

His view of what United States military forces can and ought to do is congruent neither with those of conservatives or liberals; he professes to be a Democrat but supports the Bush administration's war on Iraq, though he has some scathing criticisms of the administration's postwar conduct. Few Americans have ever heard of him. But there are signs that he may turn out to be one of the most important strategic thinkers of our time and that Rumsfeld's Pentagon is putting some of his ideas into practice.

Barnett's new map divides the world into two parts: "the functioning core" and the "nonintegrating gap." The core consists of economically advanced or growing countries that are linked to the global economy and bound to the rule-sets of international trade. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are part of the core; so are Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. All of Europe is in the core except for the Balkans. So is Russia and the western parts of the former Soviet Union. The major nations in East Asia— Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China— plus Hong Kong are in the core, as is India. So are South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. There are a couple of anomalies in the map: North Korea is pictured within the core, Singapore and Thailand outside.

The rest of the world is the nonintegrating gap— outside the global economy, not bound to the rule-sets of international trade. In the Western Hemisphere it includes the Caribbean, Central America, Guyana, Venezuela, and the Andean countries plus Paraguay. It includes all of Africa except South Africa. It includes the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And it includes the arc of countries from Bangladesh through Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

All post-Cold War military conflicts, Barnett argues, have taken place in the nonintegrating gap. The nations of the functioning core, he argues, no longer go to war. They are too interconnected economically with each other, and no rational leader of any of these countries would want to take on the overwhelming military power of the United States. Here there is room for some argument, I think. It was confidently predicted in the years before 1914, years of what Barnett called "Globalization I," that none of the great powers would dare go to war with others. Yet Germany, goading her ally Austria-Hungary, did provoke war with France, Russia, and Britain. World War I can also be seen as a refutation of the maxim optimistically laid down since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that democracies do not go to war with one another: Germany and Austria-Hungary had representative assemblies and at least partially democratic governments, and France and Britain were electoral democracies.

Of course, after the horrifying experiences of 1914-18 and 1939-45, European nations seem to have lost all appetite for going to war against one another. If India goes to war against anyone, it will be Pakistan. And certainly the United States has no inclination to go to war against any core nation. But that still leaves the uncomfortable questions of China's intentions. China, Barnett asserts, is now so globally interconnected that it will not go to war in the core or anywhere else. He is unmoved by the arguments of those who see China's ambitions in Taiwan or its persistent and rather chauvinistic nationalism or its substantial military buildup as making it a potential war maker. This is a part of his analysis that will strike some in the Pentagon and elsewhere as unconvincing.

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Let us leave this argument aside, except to note that it leads Barnett to his wider conclusion: that wars occur only in the gap. Certainly, that has been true in the years since 11/9 (Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell), and certainly it seems likely to be true of the war on terrorism. Wars occur in the gap, Barnett says, because the people there lack interconnectivity with the global economy and because most of the nations there are either led by tyrants or are, to varying degrees, failed states, which are available as launching pads for terrorists. The task of our foreign and military policy, then, must be to "shrink the gap," to link the peoples there to globalization and to provide decent state structures in tyranny-ruled or failed states. Which of course is what George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and other leaders have been trying to do in Afghanistan and Iraq and in less well-known places like Sierra Leone and Haiti.

What sort of military forces do we need to do this? Not what most Pentagon leaders assumed at least up until 9/11, Barnett says. Pentagon strategists were looking to build massive forces to defeat the next superpower rival and assigned that role to China, since no other candidate seemed likely (and even though in Barnett's view that made no sense at all). Other military challenges would be "lesser includeds," struggles that could be handled by small parts of a very big military. This was the view he encountered during the 1990s in what he portrays as a Pentagon largely unsupervised by the Clinton administration's defense secretaries and in Rumsfeld's Pentagon up until September 11.

But that view was all wrong, Barnett insists. After September 11, the hostility of the Chinese forces that brought down the reconnaissance plane in early 2001 seemed a very minor threat. And the forces of terrorism, operating from the gap, seemed a huge threat.

To deal with these, Barnett says we need two kinds of military forces. One he calls "leviathan" (Power Point briefs are full of kicky names), a relatively small body of fierce warriors, heavily weighted to special-forces teams— the kind of forces that achieved such speedy victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. And not just speedy victories, also victories won with exceedingly low casualty rates by any historic standard and, thanks to precision weapons, with very low civilian casualty rates as compared with the horrific wars of the 20th century. Leviathan forces will be doing what we did in Iraq between March 19 and May 1, 2003.

But we need very much larger forces, set apart from the warriors, of what Barnett calls system administrators or sys admins. "The sys admin force will be civil affairs-oriented and network-centric," Barnett writes, "an always-on, always-nearby, always-approachable resource for allies and friends in need." They will be doing most of the things our military forces have been doing or have been trying to do in Iraq since May 1, 2003.

The leviathan force, Barnett predicts, can grow smaller over time, given the advantages it has in precision weapons and high skills; he sides with Rumsfeld and against the retired generals who criticized the relatively small numbers of troops in the advance into Iraq. But the sys admins will have to get more numerous. We have more troops in Iraq now than we did in March and April 2003, and Barnett joins others, like Sen. John McCain and analyst Robert Kagan, who think we should have many more. The result is a transformed military. "Over time, the defense budget's top line will remain relatively flat, growing only with inflation. Within a generation, the sys admin force will command the majority of the defense budget, taking advantage of the continuous transformation that the leviathan force pursues, making this fighting force ever smaller, more lethal, and more decisive in application."

This vision sounds like the exact opposite of what George W. Bush campaigned for in 2000. Bush called for large forces and, like the conservatives criticizing the Clinton administration's many military interventions, expressed disdain for using the military for nation-building. Their argument was that continuous immersion in nation-building would dull the military's warrior spirit. Barnett argues that we don't really need that many warriors. Our experience since September 11 strongly argues the same, at least if you don't think China poses a major strategic threat.

Rumsfeld may have drawn much the same conclusion. As Barnett notes (and as Mark Mazzetti reported in a U.S. News cover story last fall), "Within the Persian Gulf itself, the Pentagon has already made subtle, little-noticed shifts, effectively ending our significant military presence in Saudi Arabia, thus relieving that regime of the political complications of having nonbelievers in their sacred lands. . . . [T]he most radical change in our global force posture involves our progressive movement into Africa, although here we are likely to see a sort of 'frontier fort' model. . . . This radical repositioning of U.S. military bases . . . is the surest sign yet that the Pentagon is moving toward an appropriately deep embrace of the new strategic environment signaled by the core-gap divide." He also notes as an "example of good Navy planning is the new concept of flexible fleet response, which speaks to an inside-the-gap, sys admin form of near-continuous ship presence that moves away from the strict rotation of surface combatants in key Cold War-defined 'hubs.'. . . The shifts being pursued in our global basing posture alone tell me that this administration has moved smartly to deal with the potential dangers of 'imperial overstretch' by trading past successes for future challenges."

More evidence has come in since The Pentagon's New Map was published. The invaluable and anonymous Web site notes that Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers on May 12-13 flew into Iraq, unusually, in the same plane, an E-4B, which has communications equipment that allows them to stay in touch with the president. After their visit, Gen. Mark Kimmitt on May 14 announced that the creation on May 15 of two new military commands to replace the current military organization— a Multinational Corps Iraq and a Multinational Force Iraq. As the Armed Forces Press Service announced, "Kimmitt explained that Multinational Corps Iraq will focus on the tactical fight— the day-to-day military operations and the maneuvering of the six multinational divisions on the ground. . . . Meanwhile, Multinational Force Iraq will focus on more strategic aspects of the military presence in Iraq, such as talking with sheiks and political leaders, and on training, equipping, and fielding Iraqi security forces." To me that sounds an awful lot like leviathan and sys admin. And it sounds as if Rumsfeld and Myers, together with Bush, have decided to adopt Barnett's ideas on restructuring our military forces.

Despite his criticisms of the Bush administration's postwar performance in Iraq, Barnett strongly supports its goals and insists that its success is an absolutely necessary though not yet sufficient step in his goal of shrinking the gap. His goals are less ambitious than George W. Bush's. "We cannot demand democracy or free markets or adherence to some 'imperial order' from vanquished foes, but merely transparency and the preservation of individual choice regarding connectivity with the outside world." That may be all that we can expect of Iraq, and indeed are already well on our way to achieving, though I, like Bush, think we can achieve more. But in either case the effort is necessary to literally change the minds of millions of people in the gap where terrorists now range free to pounce.

Barnett's strategic analysis is a good antidote to old media's focus on the behavior of seven prison guards in one shift in one cellblock in one prison and on old media's frenzied attempt to bring Rumsfeld and Bush down by the absurd charge that somehow the declaration that some prisoners, who are in fact not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections, will not be held to be entitled to Geneva Conventions protections is directly responsible for the abuses in Abu Ghraib. Isolated prison abuses are less important than whether we, in Barnett's terms, shrink the gap or, in Bush's terms, bring democracy to the Middle East.

The more important question raised by Barnett's analysis, and by the Pentagon's apparent embrace of it, is whether the American people are prepared to continue to support the positioning of admin sys forces throughout large parts of the gap for a period as long as they supporting the positioning of Cold War military forces at the Iron Curtain over the long years of the Cold War. It sounds as if Barnett is nominating America to be the policeman of the world. Of course, September 11 provides a searing lesson of what happens when we aren't. Barnett eschews the policeman label and argues that more rhetorical exhortation is needed. "It is also clear that the Pentagon, and the Bush administration in general, has"stet" not done a good job of explaining all these changes in strategic planning, and that is quite perplexing to me. Americans are smart enough to realize that it is a different world after 9/11, and that our military operations around the gap reflect that new strategic environment."

Yes, but it is also true that when Harry Truman was setting forth the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in 1947, he was not also justifying the positioning of American forces indefinitely in Europe and East Asia, and that indeed we did not yet have all these forces so positioned, and would not until after the ratification of the nato treaty in 1949 and the adoption of nsc 68, which recommended permanently stationing forces in Western Europe and the Far East, in 1950. These things happen in stages and, contrary to the assumptions of old media, not according to some master plan, which is adopted pristinely before events start happening and then is followed to the letter in fully anticipated circumstances and time frames. That is not how the world works. It is, like the postwar months in Iraq, messy and unpredictable and full of challenges that have to be met with appropriate suppleness and flexibility. And, as a glance at the biographies of Gen. Lucius Clay and Gen. Douglas MacArthur will tell you, there will always be mistakes and turns in the road.

My own sense is that Barnett is on to something, and probably something really big. George W. Bush has not given us a scenario of how the war on terrorism will be fought over the years, and how we can sense whether we are following the right path and are on the road to success. Thomas Barnett, from his perch at Newport and in his Power Point briefs and now in his book, gives us a better map of the struggle ahead.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report His latest book is "Hard America, Soft America : Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone